“You get reduced to a list of your favourite things … in a conversation, it might be interesting that on a trip to Europe with my parents, I get interested in the political mural art in Belfast. But on a Facebook page, this is too much information. It would be the kiss of death.”*
Sherry Turkle acknowledges that self presentation conflicts for adolescents is nothing new, rather, ‘What is new is living them out in public.’**
This is not about being hesitant about social technologies so much as about enlarging life. What we can find, however, is that it takes our attention away from what is more important. Hugh Macleod reflects on our timeless needs:
‘Our needs aren’t changing. They’ve been the same since day one. The point of technology is to make filling those needs easier – no to change them, and certainly not to create new ones.’^
Technology is mesmerising at times but often comes with conditions – these often don’t become and issue until it’s too late. Seth Godin warns us about building up compromises:
‘When we add up lots of little compromises, we get to celebrate the big win. But overlooked are the unknown costs over time, the erosion in brand, the loss in quality, the subtraction from something that took years to add up. In a competitive environment, the key question is: What would happen if we did a little better?’^^
Godin is thinking about the marketplace but because of his heart for people, I think we stretch these words to our personal lives, brand being identity, quality meaning understanding our depths, and subtraction being about what we lose to our addictions. This kind of addition enlarges life.
As Macleod points out, it’s about technology helping to fill our ancient needs rather than creating new ones: cyberchondria, internet rage, Facebook depression, Munchausen Syndrome.*^ (This reminded me to recharge my iPad for taking out with me and making sure my smartphone was sufficiently charged for the rest of the day – whilst I worked online writing a weblog post.)
Instead of being reductionist, I want to encourage us to become additionists – the ability to add to our lives through noticing more about what we notice more of. Rohit Bhargava imagines a future shaped by those who develop their skills of observation:
‘I believe the future belongs to those who can learn to use their powers of observation to see the connections between industries, ideas, and behaviours and curate them into a deeper understanding of the world around us.’^*
Beyond industries and ideas, we are each capable of developing our significant human skills to bring together in new ways the things we connect with and generate something new.
This is like a pilgrimage or quest. When I heard that Paulo Coelho had written a book entitled The Pilgrimage, I picked up a copy to see what pictures and images for our journeys he might share along the way.
Coelho is setting out to walk the El Camino de Santiago with his guide Petrus. He is old that he will learn things on the way:
“During the journey, I’m going to teach you exercises and some rituals that are known as practices of [Rigour, Adoration, Mercy].”⁺
The reason I mention this is because we need to find some way in which we are able to add to rather than reduce life. Coelho’s guide Petrus speaks of there being three characteristics to a true path to freedom: agape, practical application, and it’s open to anyone.
Who would doubt the increase of love is critically important in our world, but the way must also be practical, moving it beyond a theory, and, yes, this has to be open to everyone. Technologies cannot produce these things, but they can help.
Of course, walking towards something also means walking away from some other thing. Of this, Geoff Nicholson has some consoling words:
‘And as I went, I realised that walking away is one of life’s greatest pleasures, whether it’s walking away from a bad job, a bad relationship, a bad educational course or a bad psychogeography festival.’⁺⁺
(*Brad, eighteen, quoted in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.com.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s blog Counting Beans.)
(*^These came up when I googled “internet illnesses.”)
(^*From Rohit Bhargava’s Non-Obvious.)
(⁺From Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.)
(⁺⁺From Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking. Psychogeography is the practice of drifting around the geography of urban environments with playfulness, like following the route of a map that appears to be the outline of a cat, noting all the cats along the way – I just made this one up.)